Despite many effectiveness case studies proving the worth of bold ideas, it's harder than ever to sell these ideas into the boardroom. The pressures of short-term delivery and increased commercial accountability mean most organisations seek certainty - they want to eradicate risk and know that something will work before they do it.
This is compounded by the fact that, while companies will often say "Person X makes the call", the pressure to "enrol and align" various stakeholders in the matrix means that most decisions are, effectively, made by committee. Each stakeholder makes sensible and logical comments, but the compound effect is that the idea gets pushed back into the middle ground of conformity.
A certain drumming gorilla took months of selling before I'd persuaded a very reluctant organisation to air it.
Yet, ironically, transformational ideas are needed more than ever. Bold ideas that can earn the attention of increasingly inattentive consumers and help brands to jump-start their way out of sluggish, recession-hit sales. So selling these kind of ideas is hard but necessary.
When I announced I was moving agency-side to set up 101, someone was quoted as saying: "Yeah, but how will he get on now he has to actually sell work?" The naivety of this made me smile. The reality is that I've been selling work for the past 20 years. A certain drumming gorilla took six months of selling before I'd persuaded a very reluctant organisation to air it. So what are the lessons I've learned from these "hard yards"?
Socialise your philosophy
Behind every bold idea there's often an alternative philosophy to the incumbent, but outmoded, model of persuasion-based advertising. To stand any chance of getting this kind of work through, you need to lay some foundations.
Well before attempting to sell a bold idea, you need to socialise your beliefs about how brands work, and frame the communications task accordingly. "Gorilla" was rated as Red in a Millward Brown Link Test. I'd have stood no chance of persuading the chief executive to ignore this if I hadn't successfully questioned the appropriateness of the Link methodology with the global chief marketing officer three months earlier.
Get some runs on the board
When I first showed the CEO the "Gorilla" ad, he said: "Phil, I have a lot of respect for what you're doing, but I can't let you show that ad." If it hadn't been for the first part of that sentence (driven by successful new campaigns on other Cadbury brands), I would have had nowhere to go. It's therefore critical to get some runs on the board and build your credibility with key stakeholders before you go for "the big one".
Be more loyal to the brand than the company
Brands always survive longer than brand managers (and CEOs). As a client, I always took the view that the brands I stewarded were on loan, and my challenge was to leave them in better shape. This drove me to have the brand's best interests at heart and to fight its corner.
Left to their own devices, organisations can often miss opportunities or even do dumb things. Your job is to champion the brand at all costs. Putting the brand's interests ahead of this company myopia, and even being prepared to "walk" from a job if necessary, can be incredibly liberating and empowering.
Own the idea
The brutal reality is that CEOs don't feel that agencies ever have as much skin in the game as the client. What's the worst thing that can happen? The agency gets fired and finds another client (whereas the client could personally lose their job). You therefore have to make the CEO feel like it's your idea (in the ownership rather than creative sense).
Attach yourself to it so strongly that you are inseparable. It's not "the agency's idea", it's "our idea". In other words, raise the stakes. The board is not just saying "No" to an idea, it's saying "No" to you and your agenda (which is why it's critical to get some runs on the board beforehand).
React like a consumer
One of the main reasons bold ideas don't get approved is because most business people (marketers included) believe consumers think about this stuff far more than they actually do. There's a growing body of evidence to show that most human thinking is done subconsciously (particularly when it relates to relatively trivial things such as which brand to choose.) The key is, therefore, to avoid applying conscious thinking only to something that will be processed subconsciously.
The brutal reality is that CEOs don't feel that agencies ever have as much skin in the game as the client.
One of the stickiest moments in getting "Gorilla" through was when, after being shown the film for the first time, my bosses' boss stood up, pointed at me and said: "You're never showing that ad!" As a last-ditch attempt I asked him (and the other stakeholders) to take them film home and watch it, with their family, as they would watch any normal programme.
Without the burden of marketing models or consciously thinking about it, their families enjoyed it for what it was; a highly engaging and relevant piece of brand behaviour. I therefore always to used to joke that consumers "got" Gorilla more quickly than most marketers.
Evaluate like a businessman
Most non-marketers make the lazy assumption that there are only two types of marketer; the vainglorious, fluffy one, who's interested only in winning advertising awards, or the commercial one, who's the master of their P&L but a bit uninspiring.
The reality is that to drive transformational growth marketers need to be both creative and commercial. If you're driving a bolder, more creative agenda, you need to demonstrate that, first and foremost, you are commercially accountable.
It's therefore critical to attend to the other commercial levers, and to proactively drive a commercial evaluation agenda - which I did by commissioning econometric modelling as soon as there was enough sales data from the "Gorilla" campaign (and which, to the delight of the CFO, showed it generated an ROI 4x the FMCG average).
So, in short, enlightened but disciplined creativity, persuasively positioned and responsibly evaluated. However, even if you do all of the above, I can guarantee there will still be many opportunities for your bold idea to be killed. The bottom line, and harsh reality as illustrated by my "Gorilla" stories, is that getting bold ideas through requires an inordinate amount of tenacity.